Sigh. This is the post that’s probably the most complicated post in the entire Home Bar 101 series for me. Stocking your home bar is personal which makes it hard to say what you should buy and what you can do without. While I may love Bulleit Bourbon, you may have sentimental value to Evan Williams. While I sing the praises of Mezcal you may find that you would like to never touch the stuff. On top of all of this, it’s expensive, the type of expensive that most prefer to do over time. So we’re going to do just that. We’re going to stock the basics and that’s it, for now. Over time as you need St. Germain, Campari, and those things that hit somewhere between use frequently and use once a year, you can stock them as you need.
You may look at this list and say, “I’ve never even used that spirit before!” Have some faith in this process and I promise if it’s on here, we will use it regularly. If you know deep down you will not touch a Rye cocktail to save your life, then skip out on the Rye and throw that money in a jar on your bar for when you need to stock the unusual.
9 BASIC SPIRITS EVERY HOME BAR NEEDS
Essentially in the simplest of terms vodka is mainly just water & ethanol distilled. Found in your cocktails like Martinis, Moscow Mules, and Greyhounds. It’s loved in cocktails because of it’s clean, tasteless form which can lead to the mixers becoming the high notes of a drink.
Stocked In ET’s Bar : Tito’s or Snow Queen
*Editors Note: You do NOT have to get what is stocked in my bar. Please feel free to reach for what you like. However, I highly recommend trying new brands when you can. A rule of thumb I keep is if your cocktail’s base is 90% liquor like Old Fashion and Martini you can use a high-end liquor. The rest is for the middle of the range liquor, save the high end for sipping.
2. LIGHT RUM
Go ahead, get it off your chest, “But where’d all the rum go?!”. I’m glad we’re having fun with this! Rum is made from sugarcane juice or by-products of sugarcane. I will mention two rums to buy on this list and yes, they are drastically different enough to need different ones. One day we will go over all four types of rum to really blow your mind.
Light rum, white rum, silver rum, they’re all the same thing. Colorless, light in flavor and a little sweet. It works well in cocktails the same way vodka does for that light flavor. Often used in mojitos, daiquiris, & rum punch.
Stocked in ET’s Bar: Don Q
3. DARK RUM
AKA Black Rum, is just like it’s lighter sister, it’s made from sugarcane or sugarcane by-product. However, this rum has sat aging in wood casks giving it an added woody, smokey depth to it. I always think pairing with bright fruits to bring out that cask taste is the way to go with this guy. Used in Dark N’ Stormy, tiki punch, and coquito.
Stocked in ET’s Bar: Gosling Black Seal, Angostura 7 Year Dark Rum
Bourbon and rye well, I hated it because all I had was the bottom of the well whiskey until I found the holy grail that is now in my collection. Bourbon is an American made whiskey made from corn leaving it sweet with a full bodied flavor. Now there is a little bit of an unofficial rule that bourbon can only be called bourbon if it’s made in Kentucky. Technically any whiskey made in the US can be called Bourbon but with 95% of Bourbon coming from Kentucky, you can see where it’s association with the state. Used in the following popular cocktails: Whiskey Smash, Mint Julep.
Stocked in ET’s Bar: Bulleit Bourbon, Buffalo Trace Kentucky Bourbon
Does this feel similar to the rum situation? Made similar to a bourbon, rye whiskey is made with at least 51% of rye mash. Now later when we go into depth about whiskey I’ll explain all the details behind mash but for now, know that’s the difference. Which makes for this drier but spicy taste. So you can see where these completely different tastes matter when making a cocktail. Rye whiskey was the original for Whiskey Sour, Manhattan, and Old Fashion.
Think about bourbon and rye like this…bourbon will sweeten and rye will spice it. Take an Old Fashion, do you want to amp up the sweet or balance it with spice? Neither exactly wrong or right but both make two different tasting Old Fashions.
Stocked in ET’s bar: Bulleit Rye, Yellow Rose Straight Rye
Made from the blue agave plant and is similar to mezcal, these are completely different spirits! Mezcal is made from a variety of agave plants, unlike tequila that is made specifically from the blue agave. Mezcal gets a smoky and sweeter flavor than tequila. Do we need both? I rolled back and forth on this one and my answer is, yes eventually. Mezcal will show back up later when we need her we just don’t need her that often. For now, tequila will be our go-to spirit for South American cocktails.
Now the question Joven (gold), Reposado, Añejo, or Blanco (white) tequila? Blanco. I personally think it fairs better with flavors in cocktails.
Stocked in ET’s bar: Espolon Blanco, El Gran Jubileo Blanco
Fun fact, you CAN shake gin, and we’re gonna SHAKE GIN. Gin gets that outdoorsy flavor we all know from the juniper in it but it’s also distilled with a handful of other botanicals. Gin is one of those few liquors that any normal person can taste the extreme variations from brands. One day we will get into London Gin, Distilled Gin, and all their various meanings. A lot of you will try to skip out on the gin but I won’t let you. For every vodka cocktail you like you can thank gin for it. Gin was the original owner of famous cocktails like the salty dog and lemon drop, pre-WW2. So give it a few more tries because your dirty vodka Martini just might find a happier note with gin. Cocktails include: Gin Fizz, Martini, Tom Collins, Gimlet
Stocked in ET’s bar: Broker’s Gin, Brazos Gin
This brand of triple sec sees more than margaritas for cocktails. I mean, WAY more. This french orange flavored liqueur can be drunk as an aperitif or accompanied to balance out cocktails. I’ve tried having a home bar without but it’s become nearly impossible. Cocktails with Cointreau are Sidecar, Margarita, Bramble, Beachcomber.
Stocked in ET’s bar: Cointreau
Why do bitters seem scary for people in a cocktail? Trust me it’s the best thing that can happen because it will take a normal cocktail to a “holy crap where are you bartending to make this good of a cocktail” cocktail. Look at them as the way to spice up your cocktail like you would your food. Next week I’ll be going into depth with cocktail bitters and the who, what, why, and when of them. For now, Angostura bitters will be our must have! Angostura bitters add a complexity to a cocktail with it’s 40 different ingredients. Cocktails you find it in is an Old Fashion, Manhattan, Pisco Sour, Mojito.
That’s the basics, that’s all of it! That wasn’t that bad was it? Over the next few weeks I will be sharing a further in-depth look into the different spirits we stock our bar with and their various styles within their distilling. By the end of this series I want you to have enough knowledge to not only be able to make cocktails but why you are putting the ingredients you are into them. That way you can start impressing your friends with your own version of cocktail spins.
Down below tell me what your favorite spirit is and what brand you prefer!